This weeks episode is a hole in one… Matt Grech-Smith had a successful career even in University. True entrepreneur spirit shines through in this episode, as he describes it… “Throwing yourself off a cliff and learning how to swim on the way down”. Matt and his business partner Jeremy are now successful founders of Swingers Crazy Golf – mastering the art of ‘Competitive Socialising’ as he describes it.
00:00:00 Marks introduction
00:01:57 Meeting Matt, setting the scene in Oxford Circus
- 00:02:25 “We are tucked just behind selling crazy golf and street food and awesome cocktails”
00:02:25 Describing the Swingers Golf location and what inspired the nostalgic themes
- 00:03:43 “We really like the 1920s stylings and references to ‘yester-year’ because golf has lots of heritage that we like to draw on.”
00:04:57 The noise and energy of Swingers Crazy Golf, every day of the week
- 00:06:00 “So in the city, having being told we wouldn’t trade on Saturday or Sunday… Actually, Saturday is our busiest day of the week.”
- 00:06:32 “We’re really busy throughout the week. The corporate groups, they quite often want to come during working hours because they don’t want to make their employees stay too late into the evening – maybe they’re less likely to come after work. So it’s amazing, always a great atmosphere”
00:06:57 Has Matt always had crazy golf in mind? Why it will always be an easy & fun game
- 00:08:41 “You know, everyone’s got a nostalgic link to crazy golf in some way – it’s hard to find somebody who hasn’t played it at some point in their life.”
- 00:09:02 “You don’t have to change your shoes, you don’t get sweaty when you’re playing, you can score a hole-in-one on the first time you’ve played… You know, all that sort of thing. So it just works.”
00:09:37 The name ‘Swingers’ – where did it come from?
00:10:41 The ‘Institute of Competitive Socialising’
- 00:11:27 “It gives us quite a lot of freedom or the opportunity it leaves to do other things… We do have a couple of other concepts up our sleeves… As an umbrella brand it works really well for us.”
00:11:45 Does Matt think there is a resurgence in the connection of drinking and competitive socialising?
- 00:12:40 “I think these constituent parts have always been part of how people socialise. I think, for a while now, a lot of the focus was on more traditional restaurants and dining concepts.”
00:14:14 The initial plan – having events experience and bringing in people to manage your food and drink
- 00:15:13 “We were very clear that we weren’t operators, that we needed to bring people in to the business that could help us run the bar side of things but also the food. We aren’t restauranteurs, but we wanted to have really great food.”
00:17:12 The exciting time for food in the UK and sophistication of consumers
00:18:54 Where the journey began – meeting Jeremy, the co-founder of Swingers
- 00:20:50 “But I dunno, maybe it was being a little bit entrepreneurial and up for a challenge, we said ok we’ll give it a go. Launched this student night, and it went amazingly. We did between 1,500 – 2,000 people a week coming to this student night.”
- 00:22:13 “It was seen as a bit of a dark art – brands wanted to reach young people and didn’t really know how to do it, and we had these teams of brand ambassadors if you like who were talking to their peers.”
00:23:32 The total time frame from starting uni to starting a business
00:23:56 The differences between Matt & Jeremy that make them a good team
- 00:24:43 “It’s been interesting subsequently as we’ve gone into Swingers because we’ve much more delineated what we do and played up to our strengths.”
00:26:02 The entrepreneurial spirit – where does it come from?
- 00:26:43 “The best definition I had of an entrepreneur is jumping off a cliff and working out how to swim on the way down. And I guess that is what we do all the time.”
00:27:30 “Winging it all the time”
00:28:49 What was the trigger to changing career and becoming part of an agency?
- 00:29:57 “That’s the easy bit in the process, is what you do with that business after and I think the agency we were in, they acquired us without fully thinking through what they were gonna do with us in the long term.”
00:31:05 Whilst working at an agency, did Swingers start coming into Matt & Jeremy’s heads?
- 00:32:34 “We raised the money between friends and family… It was the most part of half a million pounds.”
- 00:33:01 “The word pop up is misleading – people think these things are easy to put together but they take as much work, effort and almost as much money as doing a permanent site.”
00:33:26 Was Matt nervous about investing this large amount of money into a pop-up?
- 00:35:28 “This website goes out and it says ‘there is a new pop-up coming to Shoreditch, it’s called swingers, you’re going to be able to play crazy golf, bring your cocktails while you’re playing and you can have patty and bun burgers afterwards’ and basically… our website melted.”
- 00:38:11 “We actually finished having made a decent profit from it which we were able to roll forward into our first permanent site.”
00:38:37 How did Matt go about finding the first premises? 20,000 square feet in one room
- 00:40:13 “It didn’t have gas or water, had no planning permission and also was made up of two leases that kind of needed to be combined. There was so much wrong with it.”
- 00:42:00 “At that point we didn’t have full funding and we didn’t have planning permission, but we basically went ahead and signed the lease.”
00:44:29 How much money had Matt & Jeremy raised to be invested?
00:46:24 Opening a second Swingers on the other side of town – how was that?
- 00:47:32 “For us, coming to the west end felt like a real kind of symmetry, kind of straddling central London and we were completely overbooked in the city but we knew geographically we wanted to move to the other side of town.”
- 00:49:09 “From an alcohol perspective, this is probably one of the toughest places in the country to get a new alcohol licence issued.”
00:51:31 How does Swingers work operationally with food & drink in the venues?
- 00:52:53 “What it ends up being for food vendors is a really nice add on to their business where for very little effort really…they actually get to bolt on a really nice bit of revenue for their business.”
- 00:55:02 “We tend to talk to what we call ‘up and coming restaurateurs’, where they’ve got perhaps one or two of their own bricks & mortar stores just because although the units are small here they’ll do quite a high volume.”
00:57:46 You don’t have to play golf – Swingers is available for food & drink too
- 00:58:25 “We do draw in a really good local crowd who will come in, have some drinks, maybe grab a burger if they’re feeling hungry and before you know It they might go and check if there’s a few golf slots available.”
00:58:43 Is there opportunity to do more with Swingers in the UK?
- 00:59:00 “We have the tick list of what makes a ‘swingers city’ and its lot of different factors on it. But, corporate density is certainly a big factor, an after work drinking culture, people not having to drive to get home from work…”
- 001:00:23 “We’re really aware that you can’t just be a brand from London and rock up in Manchester for example and expect it to work.”
01:00:57 Next destination: New York! Why is this Swingers next aim?
- 01:01:31 “There’s something about A. Crazy golf and B. the way we’ve designed Swingers that makes it very accessible – it’s a little bit cool but not too cool.”
01:04:42 Is crazy golf as big in the US as it is in the UK? How hard will it be for swingers to get over there?
- 01:04:56 “So we are going to go to the US and own crazy golf. We are going to show the people of America that crazy golf is mini golf with cocktails.”
01:09:17 Is there anything Matt thinks the public sector could be doing to make Swingers life easier?
- 01:10:11 “Certainly this space is not recognised for the number of people it employs and the value it brings to the economy.”
01:12:54 What’s Matt’s favourite and rewarding part of his job now?
- 01:13:14 “I love my job and I do have to remind myself that running a business and being a bit entrepreneurial is like a rollercoaster. The highs are really high and the lows are really low, and I have to remind myself this is what I always want to do.”
01:15:00 Where can you go to find out more about Swingers Crazy Golf and their journey?
01:15:52 Marks final thoughts and signoff
If you’d like to lean more about Matt, Jeremy and Swingers Crazy Golf’s literal adventures, check out their social channels and website below… Or, listen to the full episode here.